Thursday, December 31, 2009

The 365th day

The man at the bike shop was surprised to see me walk through the door. Te vas a animar? he asked, looking out at the rain. "You're really up for it?"

“It’s not raining too hard," I said.

I picked the bike with the basket, paid seven euros and left my library card as collateral.

It was raining harder when I arrived at El Retiro. The bike was a little big but I managed. Squinting through the rain, I pedaled over puddles and around joggers. My boots were soon covered in mud.

The park was nearly empty and I could occasionally hear the sound of wet gravel underneath Charlotte Gainsbourg's voice. The rain finally stopped and the sun appeared through the dark clouds.

An old man was walking past as I rode by. I smiled at him. I've developed a soft spot for old Spanish men. He raised his eyebrows in surprise, took off his hat and mouthed "Hola guapa."


Sitting at the bar at Hernani, with a café con leche and a damp copy of Anna Karenina, I glanced at the group of tourists sitting next to me, consulting a guide book. There was something really cute about the way they pronounced street names and places. "We have to get to SOUL," one of the men said.

I opted against taking the metro and walked the long way home, past Banco de España, Palacio de Comunicaciones and down Gran Via into Sol, where the festivities were already getting started. Walking is the best way to really get to know a city. Walking is also the best way to clear your head.

Sore and tired from the two-hour ride and walk, I curled up in bed, trying to sleep, trying to shut off my brain. Everyone is where they should be tonight. At home.


At 11 p.m., I put on my coat and boots and walked back out into the empty street. There was a blue moon that night.

I didn't want to be alone. I wanted noise, the company of strangers and fireworks. Lots and lots of fireworks. So I headed for Sol, and was startled by several firecrackers along the way.

Sol was chaos. There was confetti, broken glass, prostitutes, drunken singing and brawls.

I laughed (and half-screamed) as my body was crushed and knocked about in the crowd.

You're never alone in being alone.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Arrivals and departures

I'm picking up my friend Nancy at the airport in a couple of hours. Oh how I've missed her. It will be nice to have another Valley girl around. I can OMG, LIKE NO WAY! and ARE YOU SERIOUS? as much as I want without feeling deranged. She's here until Tuesday and as her tour guide, I plan on making the best of our limited time together and the bad weather.


My friends have all flown back home: Los Angeles, Ireland, Finland, London. My roommate leaves for Denmark tomorrow night.

My family is in El Salvador visiting my mother's side of the family, for the first time. It pains me that I'm not there.

This time last year, all four of us were exploring Jamaica. We drove the entire length of the island, from Negril to Port Royal, with the windows down while listening to Bob Marley. Little did I know we'd soon be scattered about the globe.

(photo via b_doody)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

An American in Paris

Crammed into a photo booth, smiling our hardest.

I spent most of my time in Paris huddled underneath an umbrella, shivering violently and avoiding puddles. But as cold and as wet as I was, I couldn't stop smiling and awwing at everything. I find most metro lovers in Madrid pretty gauche (I once tried drowning out the slurping noises by turning up the volume on my iPod. It didn't work.), but in Paris, I couldn't help but smile at them. Good for you. Please, carry on with your public displays of affection.

I licked powdered sugar from my fingers, wiped Nutella from the corners of my mouth and gleefully cracked my crème brulee with a spoon at the count of three.

Paris turned me into a child.

We rode a ferris wheel near Champs Elysee in the rain and a carousel near Sacre Coeur. A song by Edith Piaf was playing.

Oh and then there's that famous tower.

We waited in line for more than an hour to climb the Eiffel Tower in the coldest cold I have ever felt in my life. I swear I felt my heart rate slow down. My feet turned into blocks of ice. But leave now? Yes, we are delicate Californian flowers. But quitters? NEVER! I wrapped my scarf around my face and clutched Raya's arm.

Finally, about 700 steps later and more than 1000 feet above the ground, we reached the top, only to find that not only was it colder up there, but windier.

We ran across "le etoile" (the star), the area surrounding the Arc de Triomphe, which Zoya explained is not covered by insurance companies because it is notorious for car accidents.

We were the only people there, or so we thought until two French guards appeared. Zoya charmed them with her impeccable French and they asked us how we got there because the Metro passageway to the Arc was closed. We ran, she told them. "Well, that's the only way you can get back!" they said.

Cars honked as we dodged traffic in the rain. We laughed nervously, madly, from the adrenaline rush.

We had coffee at Cafe de 2 Moulins, also known as the Amelie cafe. She was everywhere.

The Amelie cafe is just a short walk from Moulin Rouge, in Pigalle, which should always be said with a wink.

We took a muddy walk through Les Tuileries.

I spent my last day at Pere Lachaise, where I paid my respects to Chopin, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde.

The cemetery cat was there to greet us.

We finally found Oscar's grave. I totally kissed it.


I was in Paris for four days and I wish I could tell you everything. What it's like to be on the Eiffel Tower when it lights up. How unbelievably small you feel in the shadows and candlelight of Notre Dame.

Paris is magic. You just have to see it for yourself.

Here’s what I can tell you: The French were nothing but friendly and helpful. You can’t have a bad meal in Paris. It will make you lovesick but here, have this macaroon that just melts in your mouth. Better?


Zoya was glued to her map, as she was for most of the weekend. We were outside the metro station by the opera house, when I saw them.

They were standing across the street. There was nothing overtly special about them. Just another couple in Paris whose preferred mode of transportation is by motorbike. They were on their way to dinner, I was sure. He removed her helmet and her hair fell like a curtain across her face. He brushed her hair away from her eyes, tucked it behind her ears, his hands poised at her temples. It reminded me of a line from a Billy Collins poem. "You hold a girl's face in your hands like a vase."

I just stood there, witnessing this quiet little moment unfold on a wet street corner. That, right there, I thought. That’s Paris.

*Special thanks to Zoya for letting us stay in her flat and for being our unofficial tour guide. You are awesome. And as the French would say "ELLE EST CANON!"*

Am I animated enough for you now, mother?

Gif Created on Make A Gif

"Why are you so sleepy? Stop yawning."

"But it's 5 a.m. here."

"Well is there a better time to Skype you? When you're actually dressed and you've combed your hair?


"How about Saturday night?"

"That's no good."


"Because... I'm not home then."

"And why not?"

"I go out."




*I've figured out how to make GIF's. You should be vewy, vewy, afwaid.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Paris: The Teaser

I'm still uploading pictures and figuring out how to write about Paris because -- surprise, surprise -- it rocked me to the very core, and once it got there, it chipped away at my cynicism. La.

I think it must have been something in the almond croissants.

Speaking of which, I've never eaten so much (or so well) in my life. Macaroons, crepes, croissants, quiche, you name it.

I was even brave enough to try frog legs (how Anthony Bourdain of me!) and escargot, the latter which Raya decided to record.

It's probably the funniest video of me that exists, right up there with the home video of me singing way off-key in the bathtub, circa 1993, with Seuss-like soap structures on my head.

But this is better, mostly because I'm fully-clothed. And because I'm struggling with a dead snail. I mean, seriously.


Also, I heard this song on the radio while I was there. It seems very post-appropriate, n'est pas?

Friday, December 4, 2009

De Viaje: Paris

(photo via Neely O'Hara)

"Have you been to Paris?"


"You -- you would love it there."

"I wish I could, but I can't right now. I can't afford it and my life is so..."

"You are making excuses."

"Err, no, it's just that..."

"Stop making excuses. Just buy a ticket and GO!"

He then told me that the last time he went to Paris he would wake up early, leave his hotel room and walk until he got lost. Armed with his camera, he walked, smelled and saw the real Paris, with all of its quarters and street vendors. He knew where his hotel was by just looking at the Eiffel Tower, so finding his way back wasn't so hard.

"I will never forget those mornings in Paris."

This week has been crazy, but as I desperately try to meet my deadline and juggle school and work, I find it comforting to know that I am thisclose to getting to Friday and someday, to Paris, where I too will get lost and find my way back again.


I wrote that on Feb. 12, 2008, back when I was a funny thing called a college student and "he" was my amazing film professor. It was a conversation I often replayed in my head during those long miserable nights and frantic last-minute trips to the library. Paris became my own personal promised land, which is why I can't believe I'm finally going... in a couple of hours.

I don't really have an itinerary but I do plan on ordering a croque monsieur (just because) and eating my body weight in crepes and macaroons. I'll walk it all off at the Louvre or Musee d'Orsay.

Please cross your fingers that all ze francais I learned au le lycee will retournee, or something like that because while I studied French for three years, it is comme ci, comme ça.

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